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How to Apply to The Wharton School’s Round 1 During COVID-19

Wharton School Hunstman Hall

It’s MBA application season, but this year, the whole process is a world away from the norm.

COVID-19 has changed the way we live, work, and educate ourselves. It’d be easy to feel a lack of motivation in this unprecedented situation, but there is no better time to start preparing for the next big step in your career than when you’re stuck at home in lockdown.

Fortuna Admissions recently held a live strategy session with senior admissions coaches from Harvard Business School, the Wharton School and Stanford Graduate School of Business to discuss the ins and outs of applying to these selective business schools during Round 1 of the application process.

And although it would be an amazing year to apply to Wharton, Harvard or Stanford without the GMAT (as it likely won’t be on the cards ever again), there’s so much more to the process.

Natasha De Masi, Wharton MBA & former Wharton Fellow offers her insight.

Mission statement

‘Develop leaders who act with a deeper understanding of themselves, their organizations, and their communities, and contribute equally to the growth of each.’ - This is the mission Wharton strives for.

Wharton is a deeply analytical, quant driven school, but its statement also talks about deeper understanding of yourself.

It’s an invitation for you to take a step back and think about the choices you’ve made leading up to applying to Wharton.

Natasha said: “I don't think they're disconnected. It does take analysis of the choices you've made, where you want to be, and where you want these choices to take you.

“I think it's very important to the admissions committee at Wharton to see humility, to see introspection when it comes to applications.”

COVID-19 attitude

We’re living in unprecedented times, but should we allow the current state of affairs to put the brakes on our future? 

The strategy session talked about attitudes to COVID-19 and whether you should still apply, but everyone has had a unique experience during the pandemic. Would the admissions office in Philadelphia be looking for examples of leadership during the pandemic?

Wharton’s mission statement talks about contributing positively to the growth of others. There is a sense of ‘we’, which pulls on humility, self-reflection, and how your support helps others – a form of leadership in itself.

Natasha said: “This is the time to show these qualities. It can be done on so many levels. A lot of large corporations have gone some way to cover that.

“This is the time when candidates with the right strategy have an opportunity to really stand out. Some people haven't necessarily had the opportunity to show the kind of leadership that HBS might be looking for at work.

“But this is a crisis situation, extreme circumstances, and anybody can step up. This is a level playing field in many ways.”

It’s all about that leap of faith whether to take up a place for Fall 2020, as the business climate will be a very different place in a few years.

Natasha said: “I encourage candidates to think about the long term, not the short term.

“It's human nature to try to time these decisions just perfectly and say, ‘Well what if I graduated this time, and we're in the middle of the recession, will I be able to monetize on my degree?’

“An MBA is an expensive time-consuming investment and it's something that stays with you for the rest of your life.

“Yes, it's different, but you're still getting an MBA from very selective schools. I personally would still invest in the experience.”

The importance of the GMAT and academic journey

Blair Mannix, the Director of Admissions at Wharton said: ‘When I read your application, I’m looking for reasons to admit you, not to deny you.’

If your data sufficiency score isn’t the highest, there are other ways to compensate if you aren’t a great test taker. There are other ways to show Wharton and other top schools you have the determination to succeed.

Natasha said: “If you found the courage and drive to apply, that means there's something about you that should be attractive to these schools.

“I worked with a candidate who took a class at Berkeley and that really helped him. That was something we used to proactively illustrate that he was aware of that shortcoming and he was actively working to address it, and to schools, that goes a long way.

“It’s an opportunity to take that point and illustrate that you have humility, and you're going to do everything in your power to fix that and overcome that barrier.”


Schools really spend time on resumes to understand the path you’ve taken, demonstrating a sense of self and determination.

Natasha said: “There's an art and science to creating a document that is one page long, that really communicates what you've done, why you've been successful.

“It's always interesting to understand where the person was for undergrad, or maybe you have an international background, and then the extracurriculars and the things they choose to do outside of work life are important as well. It's not just about what you've accomplished professionally, life is much broader than that.

“You have to work hard on boiling it down to your accomplishments. What makes you stand out from your peers. Business schools want to admit people at the top of their cohorts. It doesn't matter which field you're coming from, but you have to demonstrate excellence.”

Showing who you are

The Wharton mission statement talks about contributing to the community, and your resume allows you to demonstrate your sense of community involvement.

Extracurricular community engagement is something all three business schools want. This is an area that allows you to show your sense of committed community involvement.

Natasha said: “Business schools know that if something is important to you, you will make time for it. Most programs will be looking for commitment over a period of time that's meaningful.

“You don't have to be spending 20 hours a week on a cause for it to be meaningful and to have an impact. It's the commitment, the length of time and the weighted decision to support community.”

The essay

Wharton’s essay focuses on what you hope to get out of the Wharton MBA, it’s the part of the application to show Wharton where you want to be in the future.

Natasha said: “That can be challenging because nobody has a crystal ball, but we do have ambition, and we should know how an MBA fits into that ambition, and career and life journey we're trying to craft for ourselves.”

You should have a very good understanding of what you will take away from Wharton’s curriculum, that you can create something moving forwards. This essay question brings out your uniqueness and unique ambition.


Wharton’s interview is far from a classic style. Interviewees are tested in a group setting with a business case. It’s not necessary to solve the business case, but what is Wharton looking for?

Wharton decided this format was better to make conclusions about applicants because group work is a huge part of business school.

Natasha said: “You have a learning team that you spend so much of your time with. It's important to see how you work with other people, how you engage in that discussion.

“I think that's why the group interview format is important. It's a little tricky. It requires a different type of preparation. Preparation is key.”

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Written by Niamh Ollerton
Niamh is Deputy Head of Content at QS (TopMBA.com; topuniversities.com), creating and editing content for an international student audience. Having gained her journalism qualification at the Press Association, London and since written for different international publications, she's now enjoying telling the stories of students, alumni, faculty, entrepreneurs and organizations from across the globe.  

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